POLICY INTERROGATION, DISCOURSE AND DEBATE BY OSELOKA H. OBAZE
Leadership –The Challenge Of Our Intelligensia
Remarks At 20th Anniversary of the Council of Knights, Emmaus House, Awka
Saturday 14 April 2017
It is a pleasure to be here. I thank Dr. Emma Ezenwaji for extending an invitation to me to join you today, as you mark the 20th Anniversary of the Council of Knights, Awka. I salute the noble Knights and their Ladies.
On behalf of my wife Ofunne and my team, I bring you all very warm Easter felicitations as we commemorate the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. This season calls for a sober reelection on the sacrifice of Christ and His accomplishments. As we enjoy the benefits of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice, and the gift of redemption, my prayer is that the light of the risen Christ will continue to shine of all facets of our lives. Above all, may this season prompt our recommitment to loving our neighbours, and above all, being worthy servants in our public and private lives.
Alex Ihama, a Nigerian motivational says that “leadership is a spirit that can only be lighted by purpose, guided by principles and sustained by passion.” This observation in sum, tallies with what British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli termed the “essence of governance.” But leadership does not exist in a vacuum. The poor and disenfranchised; the illiterate and the indigent are ever so preoccupied with eking out subsistent living that they often do not pay attention to the follies and shortcomings of leadership.
It, therefore, behooves members of the attentive public, the Nigerian intelligentsia and noble Knights of the Church to stand firm on behalf of the dispossessed and ill-governed. Just as you stand up to protect the faith, you must also stand up to protect the right of the poor, the needy amongst us especially, the widows, the orphans and the aged. This moral obligation cannot be shirked.
We must transcend our collective and individual comfort zones to speak up when things go wrong or are going wrong. We must speak truth to power. We must not accept, for the sake of getting along and belonging; or for gratuitous handouts, when governance is shoddy and does not pass the litmus test of transparency, ethics and accountability- all hallmarks of good governance.
Governments come and go. Politicians come and go; but the society subsists as does the Church. Invariably, while the Constitution calls for the separation of Church and state, it does not by any means, foreclose on collaboration between both bodies for the betterment of our society. Such collaboration must continue in the areas of education, healthcare delivery, social welfare, caring of the orphans and the aged. Here in Anambra we must revamp our law-backed social welfare scheme, for those who are seventy-five years and older. That well-intended programme is nearly dead. Yet the desired collaboration between church and state must not become acquiescence in which the leadership of the Church and even Knights of the Church and the national intelligentsia elects to shirk their moral obligation just so as to be in the good books of the political leadership. Church leaders who accept to be “settled” by any means abdicate their vows and moral authority.
Similarly, we must insist on the respect of our Constitution, which dictates three separate but equal arms of government – the legislative, executive and judiciary. Each arm must respect the remit of the other. It is folly, when wise, good men and women, indeed, when Knights pretend that the raging conflict within our various arms of government is none of their business. I beg to differ. Governance is every body’s business. In that context, the greater danger confronting our democracy is for our legislative houses to become mere rubberstamps for the executive branch, and for our judiciary not to enjoy financial autonomy and independence.
Today, our country is in state of arrested development at all levels, federal, state and local. Increasingly, elected state governors deny local government officials the privilege of being elected by their own people. This is simply unacceptable and must be condemned vehemently. Furthermore, Governments continue to make promises that are never redeemed. Governments now lay claims to projects that were never undertaken or executed. The overall result is incremental retrogression. This is a fact too hard to swallow; but it remains the truth.
We cannot say that we have good governance, where there is absence of frugality, transparency and accountability. As the old sage and musician, Bob Marley sang; “You can fool some people sometimes, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” Despite the perception and media hype that has become the choice form of governance, there is indeed, no transparency in governance. We are grateful that that Governor of Kaduna State Mallam Nasir El-Rufai and the Speaker of the House of Assembly Yakubu Dogara have started a well-past-due debate on the need for openness about how public funds including the so-called security votes are spent. This should extend to all levels of government, federal, state and local government, including our dear state, Anambra.
Government should carry the people along and there should be full disclosure of what the Government is doing - sources of Revenue including inflows and outflows. Government owes a duty to inform its citizens where the money is coming from and how such funds are being spent and in what areas. Similarly, we are experiencing excessive borrowing by states, which is deeply troubling. There must be full disclosure as to how much we owe.
Across board, in Nigeria, we are encountering very troubling infrastructure deficit. This pertains to social and physical infrastructure or what some refer to as soft and hard infrastructure. Examples are available in the deficits in the transport and power sector. In the area of power, government has failed woefully intervening on behalf of our people. Although we have spent N5 trillion ($36 billion) since 1999 on our power sector, we only produce 2.5 megawatt from our 26 power plants, compared to 40 megawatts produced by South Africa. We are not seriously looking at alternative energy. That is also policy failure. An attentive government or leadership should have declared a state of emergency in the power sector. Ad hoc measures by which we continue to use electric generators to power our industries, public utilities etc. is an exercise in futility. Simply put, such make belief exercises are not sustainable.
As a person who has been a public servant in various capacities, and a public commentator and indeed, as a person who still aspire to high public office, I feel obligated to flag these issues as pressing. I foresee a vital role for Knights to join in the debate; to speak boldly and raise alarm, where government has not done well or claims to have achieved more than it has delivered in real terms. As you mark your anniversary, please call on government to respond to unmet needs and to address critical sectors, where the society at large continue to experience immense deficits. Thank you for your attention.